Review of the Pixel Buds A-Series: “Hey Google” and the best features without major drawbacks

The second-generation Pixel Buds were, on paper, a complete victory for Google after a disastrous initial try at wireless earbuds in 2017. But over time, some consumers’ opinions of the $180 earphones grew sour due to audio cuts and battery life issues. The Pixel Buds A-Series are now available, offering essentially the same design for almost half the price.

I can categorically state that they are the superior product after using them for the past week.

SMART CUTS IN THE HARDWARE THAT DO NOT IMPAIR A GOOD FORMULA Where are all the cost savings if the Pixel Buds A-Series cost half as much as Google’s prior model? The majority of the changes are, in one way or another, hardware-related. We’ll explore these changes throughout the study, but let’s first talk about the outward, physically visible modifications.

The actual earbuds are identical to the original Buds in design, except glossy plastic is utilized in place of matte. The interior of the case receives the same modification. It’s difficult to determine if this was just a cost-cutting move, but if it was, it worked out brilliantly. This adjustment is largely irrelevant and has no negative effects on the user experience. In fact, it practically improves the experience because earwax buildup is easier to remove from a glossy surface than a matte one. The fact that there were just two color options—white and green—certainly contributed to cost reduction.

The situation has also subtly changed. Thankfully, the overall size and shape are still the same, but the texture has changed significantly. The A-Series case has a distinct plasticky feeling and a matte texture with a tacky grip rather than having a smooth pebble-like feel. Although it’s not strictly a bad adjustment, we noted it right away on our review units. The case’s weight is also not distributed equally, however this is a very small issue.

However, noticeable variations account for a very minor portion of Google’s price reduction.

SWIPS LOSE DUE TO TOUCH GESTURES Google’s decision to eliminate touch gestures may have had the greatest overall impact. Although they have been reduced to their bare bones, they are still there.

The Pixel Buds A-Series only support tapping as touch gestures. Playback of audio can be paused or resumed with a single tap. A song can be skipped with a double-tap on either side, a song may be returned with a triple-tap, and your Google Assistant notifications can be read out with a long press. Instant Google Assistant listening is also activated by pressing and holding.

There are no physical gestures for volume adjustment on Pixel Buds A-Series. Instead, Google recommends using the always-available Hey Google hotword to control the level hands-free and Adaptive Sound to have the volume adjusted automatically based on ambient noise. According to Google, reducing the number of sensors in the gesture area was a way to reduce expenses.

For better or for worse, COMFORT IS THE SAME. The comfort of the original Pixel Buds was one of my favorite aspects of them. I had no trouble wearing them for hours because they fit well in my ears. However, several users discovered that the Buds rapidly became uncomfortable due to the tiny wings.

The plot is essentially the same as the new A-Series. You’ll feel just as comfortable in these as you did in the originals. These will feel the same as if they weren’t.

The chances that A-Series will be at least mostly comfy are in your favor if you have never worn a pair of Google earbuds. Although I did note that if I was working outside and perspiring, the tips could feel a little scratchy within my ear canal, something I haven’t encountered with the standard Buds or others I’ve tested in recent memory. I can easily wear them for 2 hours without much of a problem. But as always, earbud fit and comfort are highly subjective, so your results may differ. Return windows serve this purpose.

AUDIO QUALITY GIVE IT TIME According to Google, the A-Series will deliver the same high-quality audio as the $180 Pixel Buds, including speakers with comparable 12 mm drivers. In actual use, I discovered that the audio quality was comparable but not identical.

The Pixel Buds A-Series are intended to have a flat sound profile, but I felt that the mids were less present than I would have wanted. They were slightly missing here, and certain tracks felt a little hollow as a result, even with the Bass Boost function enabled in the companion app on my Pixel 5. This was especially noteworthy when contrasted to a device like the Jabra Elite 85t, which is heavy on the mids. The Pixel Buds A-Series nevertheless came off as a little underwhelming when compared to headphones with a comparable sound profile, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro. They are extremely comparable to Apple’s basic AirPods.

The results, however, seem to be improving noticeably the more I use the Buds. The sound quality initially turned me off, but after using it for a while, it actively improved. It’s possible that the drivers just require more break-in time than an average pair. The earbuds have had roughly 18 hours of active listening time so far, and at this point they sound significantly better than they did at first, with noticeable improvements in the mids.

Given enough time for them to acclimatize, I doubt many people would be overly unhappy with the sound quality here. After all, the selling point of Pixel Buds is intelligence above sound.

JUST A BIT OF THE WORLD AROUND YOU Google built a real vent through the speaker into the Pixel Buds and subsequent A-Series headphones to let in sound from the environment. This practically says there is no such thing as noise cancellation, and this is obvious. A-Series will let in outside noises, like the sound of typing at a keyboard and general city sounds.

For my part, I’m cool with that. It only makes these more valuable to me, if anything. I feel at ease wearing these when I’m out and about and still need to be mindful of my surroundings because of the vent. For instance, I can continue to listen to music while shopping and still be aware of anyone trying to pass me or draw my attention. However, I really wish that Google would aggressively exploit this by turning down the level when you speak using the microphones. That’s a tactic Samsung uses, but Google could do it better without the little uncanny-valley feeling that the microphone sounds can sometimes evoke thanks to the vents in Pixel Buds.

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FEATURES Hey Google gains new significance. the always-defense listening’s Even if some other earbuds and headphones offer instant-Assistant connectivity, the Hey Google hotword is exclusive to Google’s Pixel Buds. This characteristic assumes a new level of significance on A-Series.

This capability makes the A-Series worth while in a sea of inexpensive truly wireless earbuds rather than being another premium feature that adds to a high-end, pricey product. Nothing else in the $99 price category comes close to competing with that particular function, which thankfully performed flawlessly during my testing. It is accurate and quick.

A fatal flaw is adaptive sound. The really cool Adaptive Sound concept was promised when the first Pixel Buds made their debut. The issue was that it didn’t perform that well at launch, which was made worse by the time of the release, which coincided with COVID-19 lockdowns.

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I’ve seen a lot of support for this feature on A-Series, and I’m really happy with how nicely it functions. Volume changes so swiftly and quietly that, unless it’s on your mind, it frequently passes unnoticed. Working on mowing the lawn is one of my favorite ways to test features like this, and Adaptive Sound more than met the challenge by turning up the volume to a point where I could hardly hear the buzz of my electric mower without it getting too loud and hurting my ears.

However, that does not mean it is faultless. There were a couple of little errors as a result of the apparent heightened sensitivity. I once noticed the Buds’ volume changing in time with a single passing automobile. Technically, that is operating as intended, but because the sound was so sudden, raising the Buds to block it out felt a little risky. Another instance when there was only a slight problem was when I was speaking and the Buds turned up the volume. I said that I wished they had done the exact opposite.

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With no bells or whistles Attention Alerts is one notable feature that has been completely removed. This extra feature might alert the user if it heard sounds like baby crying, dogs barking, or emergency sirens using the inbuilt microphones.

Google might be less able to add new capabilities to the A-Series in the future than to the standard Buds. This less expensive model doesn’t have an accelerometer or gyroscope, which may theoretically be used for future features, in contrast to the $180 offering.

Funny thing is, Google’s 2020 release will have almost the same number of features as the Pixel Buds A-Series when they go on sale. Only features that were added after launch are absent.

EXACTLY AS GOOD A BATTERY LIFE AS THE ORIGINALS The headphones’ battery life stood in line with that of the original Buds. A fair guideline for what to anticipate typically is five hours. Although I never completely depleted the Buds, my longest sessions easily exceeded five hours and occasionally even went a little bit longer.

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But Google’s modification to battery monitoring was the biggest advancement for the A-Series. The original Buds were infamous for charging each earbud at a radically different rate, which occasionally caused one bud to run out of battery before the other. With each bud reporting totals that were within 5% of one another, the A-Series has been rather steady for me here. Very good.

I was able to reduce the case to roughly 55% over the course of five days with one to three-hour listening sessions each. That is in accordance with Google’s prediction that one charge of the case will need 24 hours of listening time.

The negative? The Pixel Buds A-Series no longer support wireless charging. Even if it was a reasonable cost-cutting measure, the elimination was unfortunate. The truth is that USB-C works quite well and is ultimately faster, but Qi just makes life simpler and makes sense on high-end goods. Even if Google reduced the price by over $100, the Pixel Buds A-Series are still a premium product compared to the thousands of really affordable but excellent truly wireless earbuds that are now available.

Final thoughts The better product is still half as expensive The Pixel Buds A-Series are not the cheapest fully wireless earphones available at $99, though. They aren’t the most expensive either. They succeed in finding a clear middle ground. At this price point, you could sacrifice certain expected capabilities like wireless charging, but you also get features like Hey Google and Adaptive Sound that high-end earbuds can’t match.

With Pixel Buds A-Series, there are simply no deal-breakers. They provide an excellent user experience without sacrificing anything crucial from the standard Pixel Buds for a fair price. These are without a doubt the superior product, as was already noted.

There is practically no incentive to choose the normal Pixel Buds over the A-Series unless wireless charging is worth an extra $90, which it most definitely is not. It will take the release of updated hardware to fix this.

Pixel Buds A-Series open today pre-orders.

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